A Letter to the Western Wall

by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller

Thank you for inspiring me, for comforting me, for unifying our people.

Dear Western Wall,

You’ve been in the news a lot lately. It seems like scarcely a day goes by without someone spreading lies about you. Unesco voted twice in recent weeks on a resolution saying that there was never a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, that the Jews who flock to you from all over the world have no connection or right to pray at your sun-warmed stones. How absurd.

Some of the most important moments of my life have been spent with you. I can’t imagine how my life would be were it not for you and the special closeness with God that I’ve felt in your presence. It’s time to say thank you.

From the very first moment I laid eyes on you, you weren’t what I expected. All my childhood, my family and I faced you when we prayed in synagogue. My great grandparents, living in ghettos in Europe, kept your image before them. Although they could never hope to travel to Jerusalem to see you in person, they spoke of you in their daily prayers, confident that one day their descendants would be able to pray freely at your stones.

But that first morning when I saw you, instead of seeming ancient, you seemed so modern. Teeming with life, you sparkled in the sun. Gingerly, I approached you; I laid my hand on your warm stones, and unexpectedly, tears filled my eyes. I pictured the generations of Jews who’d stood in the very spot where I was, bringing offerings and prayers.

Suddenly, a cry of “Please!” cut the air. A woman, her hand on your stones with tears streaming down her face, was pouring her heart out. I turned away quickly, not wanting to stare, but the image of her face stayed with me. I was used to decorous synagogue services. I’d never seen anyone so utterly immersed in prayer.

I read through the morning service and when my prayers mentioned the Patriarch Abraham, I felt a jolt realizing I was standing at the very spot he brought Isaac to. Reading lines written by King David, I was blown away that I was in the very place he conquered and designated for the ancient Temple. Each time my prayer book mentioned the sacrifices that were offered to God in the Temple, I looked up, half expecting to see a plume of smoke swaying in the summer breeze. An hour passed in what felt like minutes. I felt like I’d been transported in time to where the past and present had seemed to mingle.

After that encounter, I couldn’t stay away from you. I returned a few days later on a Friday evening, and joined the throngs of college students and backpackers like myself, who were drawn to your presence. Nearby families opened their homes to us, and my first invitation to a Shabbat dinner came in front of you. Your majesty inspired Jerusalem families to open their doors, and we college students to open our hearts.

You’ve been there for me ever since. I stood before your stones thinking through my options after college. I prayed before you for relatives when they were sick, for comfort when things weren’t going well. It was in your presence that I, brokenhearted at being single years longer than many of my friends, prayed to meet my husband.

Time and again, you inspired me to think of others. The afternoon I came to you and saw a group of new recruits inducted into Israel’s army before you, I prayed for the safety of those young men with an intensity I’d never felt before.

The year that I was in Israel for Tisha B’Av, the day commemorating the destruction of the Temple and your other walls, I found your entire plaza full of people sitting on the ground, fasting, praying and wailing.

Years later, when our daughter’s bat mitzvah was coming up, she had only one request: to be standing in your presence, steeped in your holiness and special atmosphere on her special day.

Someone once told me that you are never alone, that Jews never allow you to stand empty. Visiting Jerusalem one year in a snowstorm, I decided to see for myself, and at midnight, there in the snow, stood a group of men praying silently. We lost our precious Temple long ago and now we’re determined not to ignore you, dear Western Wall.

Through the years, I’ve watched Sikhs and Buddhists, Christians and Jews, secular and religious people all come together to pray next to you. You’re open every day, there is no admission charge to visit you. You simply give of yourself; your treasures are open to all.

Western Wall, you’re the center of the Jewish world, the place where I feel most connected to my fellow Jews. While we can call out to God everywhere, prayer feels most intense standing by your side. Thank you for inspiring me, for comforting me, for unifying our people. My heart is always with you

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